Meet Me In Tijuana

So here's a little summary of how we made it into Mexico. Alex and I flew back from Germany on the morning of June 1, over London and into Los Angeles. So far, so good. What was not so easy was the fact that I am officially without a visa, which can make it pretty tricky to get back into the country. Now we've heard horror stories (read: the internet) that people in my situation have been sent back home after being suspected of trying to sneak into the US. “Oh, you're traveling with your girlfriend, are you trying to marry into the US? Forget it, buddy, back to old Deutschland with you. I see you used to work here, are you trying to snatch a job away from a hardworking American? No chance, fancy pants!” That's why we decided that I would continue on to Tijuana by plane, and thereby prove that I am indeed not trying to sneak back into the US.

What becomes of the bikes, you ask? Well, the plan was that Alex would put the bikes and most of our stuff on a Greyhound bus and would meet me on the other side of the border. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, not so much. Over to Alex.

The “how to reunite in Tijuana” dilemma had been hanging over us for awhile, and rehashed with friends and family more times than I'd like to remember in the months leading up to our trip. At one point, I'd concocted a semi-harebrained scheme involving a train, a trolley, and lots of me pushing two fully loaded bikes down the pedestrian bridge and through the tiny turnstile at the border. Luckily it didn't end up being quite that precarious. But almost.

So here's the short version. Wonderful Katie again flew to the rescue upon my re-arrival into LA. After much too little sleep, we were up at the crack of dawn and headed downtown, where I had reserved the biggest Zipcar I could find (which turned out to be not that big). Luckily it was an hour or two before rush hour, so my crash course in navigating the streets of LA by car was far less homicidal than it could have been. Then I had three hours to run a few errands, which proceeded something like this:

1) Drop all non-bike clothes back at the post office for shipment home;

2) Drive to bike store to pick up boxed bikes. Yell at bike store employees for failing to box bikes as promised. Demand boxing NOW because I am a lady on a mission;

3) Shove two gigantic bike boxes into Zipcar without a centimeter to spare. Shower thanks upon the complete stranger who sees me struggling with two boxes bigger than myself and stops to help, but not the bike store employees, who officially hate me, and vice versa;

4) Drive to Greyhound station to drop off said gigantic bike boxes, plus seven bike panniers, two handlebar bags, two helmets, and one reasonably proportioned backpack. Find employee, who informs me that busing that much stuff will cost somewhere in the range of many hundreds of dollars;

5) Commence panic attack. Find different employee, who helps me shove all panniers into one enormous cardboard box, which Greyhound will gladly carry for $10;

6) Leave all worldly possessions at Greyhound station. Drive Zipcar back downtown like a madwoman. Screech into parking spot with two minutes left on reservation. Hail taxi back to Greyhound station;

7) Stop to breathe for eleven minutes. Board bus to Tijuana.

Once on the bus, everything else was relatively peaceful. Until the border, at which point I was transfered from a Greyhound bus to a Mexican bus line whose name I've since forgotten. Then we drove 100 feet, and transferred to another identical bus by the same company. After both transfers, the “volunteers” who moved our boxes from one bus to another (twice) politely refused to leave the bus until they were tipped (twice). When the twelve or so other Mexican passengers refused, the driver informed us that he had no obligation to help with luggage, so if we didn't want to tip the volunteers (twice) we were on our own from here on out. I was still in German mode and could barely understand a word of what was going on, but everyone around me was sufficiently incensed about the double-tipping scam that we unanimously voted on self-handling of luggage. Which is how, after a gentle “inspection” of the bike boxes by bowie knife wielding customs agents and a short ride to the Tijuana airport, two of my fellow passengers, who happened to be very elderly Mexican men, helped me unload my many large boxes from the back of the bus into Tom's waiting arms. Viva Mexico!

Once we had reunited at the airport in Tijuana, it was time to reassemble the bikes. This proved to be quite a feat, and highly amusing for the group of onlookers that amassed to watch us struggle. Ultimately, a nice fellow who was part of our original gawking/welcoming party hopped on his bike and led us straight to the hotel. Thank you, friendly fella! After those stressful hours you can probably imagine how happy we were to be falling into made beds, and relieved that we had really, truly made it into Mexico.

That's a pedal lying in the middle of the sidewalk.

The next morning we took things easy, sleeping in and chowing down on the hotel's continental breakfast. While loading up our bikes later that morning, we had a pleasant conversation with one of the hotel employees. He pretty much confirmed what we had expected from the get go: that Tijuana as a town is definitely not as dangerous as people make it out to be – in fact, he didn't consider it dangerous at all. Before we left for our trip, we heard from so many people how incredibly careful we have to be, drugs, guns, gang violence, every Mexican out to get us. Funny thing is, most of the people who told us that stuff were also the ones who had never laid a foot in Mexico, much less in Tijuana. So there, another nasty urban myth debunked!

At long last, it was time to finally reunite our butts with our dearly missed bike saddles. Getting back on the road was easier than we had anticipated, but the sun got to us nonetheless. Lesson learned, keep the sunscreen thick on your skin, the sunglasses firmly on your nose, and the water running down your throat, and you'll be fine. The busy streets of Tijuana soon opened up into a rolling oceanside highway, and a salty breeze pushed us along the good ol' Pacific Coast.

Our first impressions of Mexico: Kenny G...

...and the filming location of Titanic...

...and hilltop Jesus.

We decided to end our day in a tiny town called La Fonda, where we scouted out the questionably named “Young Dudes Surf Hostel.” Going in, we encountered the caretaker, a leathery Australian who could have been in his early 30s or late 50s, impossible to tell from his wrinkly, tanned skin. When we asked where we could camp, he threw us his car keys and said that we should move his car and park in his rocky driveway. When we asked how much a room would be, he gave a noncommittal answer, said he'd give us a discount because he is such a nice guy. That, of course, raised both of our eyebrows. Oh yeah, throughout this entire conversation he was slurping on shrimps and making a complete mess of it. All weirded out, we said we'd be back after picking up groceries, to which he replied with a surfer bro-y “Whatever.” Logically, we ditched that place and went with the regular campground right next door, where we set up tent on a dusty cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Despite the layer of grit which proceeded to coat all of our gear, it was great to be right at the ocean and enjoy a beautiful sunset.

The day after (Day 50 of our adventure, hooray for another milestone!), we did some pelican-gazing in the morning and then made for Ensenada. Easier said than done, with the temperatures cranked up even higher and the road heading inland over seemingly endless hills. To top it off, Alex got yet another flat tire, on a particularly steep and twisty stretch of road. Dios mio!

We eventually did make it to Ensenada and were rewarded with amazing tacos and tortas for lunch. When we were heading out, the owner of the place got all excited about our trip and slapped enormous bumper stickers on our panniers advertising the name of his taqueria. A nice gesture…but we were subsequently mean mugged by the next taqueria down the street, and the one after that, so we de-stickered ourselves pretty quick. Just south of Ensenada we turned in at El Faro campground, again directly at the ocean. I even saw a bunch of dolphins, now wasn't that something!

The next day brought us away from the ocean and back inland on the “Ruta de Vino,” Baja's wine country. We were unaware that there was a Mexican wine industry (that probably exposes us for our wine ignorance), but nonetheless enjoyed winding through tranquil valleys laced with vineyards. But yet again, it was hot hot hot. Around noon, we pulled up on the side of the road for a lunch of tortillas and tomatoes and avocados. We looked down from the road and, lo and behold, we were perched right above a campground…with a deserted, glittering blue swimming pool just sitting there waiting for us. That was all we needed to see to end our day right then and there.

The campground was clearly family-oriented, painted in bright colors, and could easily have accomodated hundreds of little kids who would have loved that pool just as much as we did. But once again, we found ourselves completely alone. Beyond the eerie abandoned feel of the place, it featured a tiny zoo that ran though the middle, for the enjoyment of all of the people who were nowhere to be found. The zoo, if it could even be called that, consisted of a row of metal cages containing the most depressed animals you've ever seen. Peacocks, starved dogs in cages labeled “rabbit”, turkeys, a random coyote, and a crazed little spider monkey all put a tear in our eyes. Despite her best efforts, Alex couldn't find a way to break in and set them free. So she sat and pet the sad dogs and held the monkey's tail (which he seemed to enjoy) until it was time for bed.

The next day brought more heat (are you detecting a trend here?), but upped the ante a bit by throwing some dust storms into the mix. Despite the dirt, we felt like we were finally starting to acclimate to the heat, and we had a strong day that took us over fifty miles of hills, hills, and more hills. Since our little guidebook didn't give us any information about campgrounds nearby, we decided to try our hand at Mexican wild camping. Well…that was a fail. Finding a suitable spot was beyond complicated, and surprisingly smelly. Every time we encountered an area that seemed flat and secluded enough for a tent, we also found about thirty years worth of accumulated toilet paper and (presumably) human excrement. The trash situation, at least along Highway 1, is pretty disheartening – the sides of the road are chock full of discarded rubbish. Bottles, tires, windshields, diapers, produce boxes, clothes, toilet paper, you name it. Filthy and tired of walking around in poop, we finally came across a hotel in the middle of nowhere and, hanging our heads in shame, decided to go for it. Alex did manage to talk the hotel owner down from $100 per night to $40, and we got some Wi-Fi, so that was a bonus. But honestly, it was worth it. After breathing in a thick brown cover of dust all day, it was a relief to take a shower and not worry about setting up camp in the wind.

Thanks to our cozy bed, we slept in way too late and didn't get on the road until past noon the next day. But it turned out perfectly, because as soon as our wheels finally touched the road we started flying. Insane tailwinds pushed us down the arrow-straight highway, and we covered a distance of almost 40 miles in little more than 2 hours. I'll take that any day! When we got to San Quintin to pick up a fresh load of groceries, Alex made some new friends: two little boys on dirty bikes who were rather curious about our bags, lights, and other weird accoutrements. After much whispering and pointing, she roped them into a conversation about the World Cup. The verdict: Mexico will win, the Americans have no chance (literally laughable), and Brazil is stupid because of either something on the front of their jerseys or their manboobs (lost in translation).

Long and straight and flat...and fast!

Hangin' with Jose, otherwise known as Bob Esponja.

After bidding farewell to our new friends, a measly three miles of dirt road stood between us and our campground of choice. Easier said than done, especially on bikes that weigh somewhere in the range of 75-100 pounds each. First it was just bumpy, then the dirt turned to sand, then the sand got soft and loose and we started to sink, then Alex accomplished an epic wipeout that flipped her bike completely onto its handlebars and saddle, then Alex was really pissed, then we started pushing our bikes, until finally we made it to Don Eddie's RV Park. I got pretty frustrated myself but I had to keep up appearances. The masquerade must have worked, because Alex got pissed at me as well! Luckily, the end of the road met us with Tony, the owner of Don Eddie's, who bought us a beer and made us feel right at home. The place actually turned out to be such a good find that we decided to stay another night, and take our first real Mexican rest day.

 

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